Parliament considers Syria

They have been debating the Syria bombing in the House of Commons over the last two days. This is Parliament’s page on the 2nd day of debates which is based on a motion put by Alice McGovern MP (Labour). Jeremy Corbyn instructed Labour to vote against, spoke against it and the debate is recorded in Hansard here, together with the voting record. The previous day, the Prime Minister made a statement to the house, the web page with links to the video and Hansard record is here…. I watched a couple of hours; it’s dispiriting stuff, the PM makes every other speech, and half the remainder are Tories and Labour’s Refusniks were out in force.

Here’s how the argument goes, the use of chemical weapons is a humanitarian crime, despite the fact that the two organisations responsible had not determined that such an attack had taken place, nor that military force was to be used, the Governments of the USA, France & the UK had decided that bombing targets in Syria was an appropriate & legal response.

Only the British Government has published its legal reasoning. They argue that Sovereigns have the right to make humanitarian interventions without permission from the UN. That would require the act of a chemical attack to have occurred and the western power’s action to have reduced the likelihood of further attacks.

The right to make such humanitarian interventions is controversial and has never been agreed by the UN nor any international court. The attack has not been confirmed by the international body designated as responsible, and it’s highly questionable if the actions will improve the lot of the Syrian people. This is why the claim to have degraded the chemical warfare capability of the Syrian Government is so important. Otherwise its just recreational!

The argument that the UN had failed to act because Russia was cheating does not give the Governments of the USA, UK & France the right to substitute their judgement for that of the Security Council. As Dapo Akande argues in his legal opinion for Tom Watson, if nothing else there’s always the UN’s Uniting for Peace process which is designed to deal with a deadlocked Security Council. The UN flawed as it is, is our only hope. The three governments have weakened its authority. A further option was as Corbyn says, to support the OPCW and continue to pressurise Russia by diplomatic means.

Labour & Article 50

Labour & Article 50

In my report back from Labour Party Conference, I predicted that the fault lines caused by the Brexit Referendum would become a potential fatal debate for the Labour Party. Today the Independent reported on a speech by John McDonnell, in which he argued that Labour would not oppose an Article 50 bill and would use moral pressure to ensure that the Brexit terms negotiated were acceptable to Labour. Jolyen Maugham argues in the New Statesman that promising not to oppose Article 50, or not to amend it disarms the PLP, it will have no leverage on the Tories who are still putting the interests of their party before that of the country.

Article 50 & Parliament

Article 50 & Parliament

The BBC reports that the High Court states that the Government needs Parliament’s permission to trigger the EU’s Article 50 Brexit process. The article is silent on whether Parliament has to express its will as a Law or joint house resolution; I’ll leave the last word to others more qualified, but I don’t think there is any other way to undo previous Parliamentary dispositions other than to pass a new law, which involves four readings and a committee stage in the Commons and the same in the Lords and potentially whatever we call the Conference process to resolve disagreements between the Houses.

It’s not just the West Lothian question

It’s not just the West Lothian question

This made me laugh, Vernon Bogdanor, one of Britiain’s foremost constitutional scholars writes about Cameron’s proposals for English Votes for English Laws. He points out that Ulster Unionist votes deprived Labour of Commons majorities in 1946 and 1964, he neglects to point out that they also voted with the Tories in the confidence vote that brought down the Callaghan Government. Interestingly short memories the Tories and their press supporters have. It adds to the evidence that the Tories aren’t interested in democracy; this is about entrenching Tory power.

pictfor: democracy 2.0

pictfor: democracy 2.0

Last night I went up to Westminster for a Pictfor meeting; this time, Parliament 2.0: How can the internet revolutionise British Democracy. The panel speakers were, Jaan Priisalu, Director General of the Estonian Information System’s Authority, Katie Ghose, CEO, Electoral Reform Society & Ruth Fox, Director, Hansard Society, while the meeting was chaired by Stephen Mosley MP, it was kicked off by the John Bercow MP, the Speaker. The centre piece of Bercow’s speech was an introduction, for me at least, to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy which is reviewing Representation, Scrutiny and the legislative process. Jaan Priisalu talked about Estonia’s e-voting paltform, while Ghose and Fox spoke about democratic engagement.

Oh Shit! You mean spying on everyone is illegal?

Oh Shit! You mean spying on everyone is illegal?

Better change that then! In April, the Court of Justice of the EU, ruled that its 2004 Data Retention Directive mandating Information System Services Providers to store all their records for 12 months was declared incompatible with the EU’s Fundamental Charter of [Citizen’s] Rights. It and all the national laws implementing the Directive need to be reviewed to see if they remain legal. Last week, the Government announced that it planned to introduce new laws to plug the gap. This is to be called the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill/Act. (DRIP) which they plan to pass in less than ½ a week using emergency provisions and the agreement of the Labour front bench.

The politics of intervention in Syria revisited

The politics of intervention in Syria revisited

The Guardian run a retrospective story on Parliament’s decision not to use British military force in Syria after the chemical weapons attacks there. One of the threads in the story is that the old division of powers between the executive and legislature has been irreparably changed. In my mind the precedents and the development of Law needs to be put in the context of the decisions taken about Suez, the Falklands and Iraq, the latter two military interventions both having Parliamentary debates before military action. It should also be born in mind that the US used to have a similar  disposition but changed their laws after Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam War.

Parliament debates the Bedroom Tax

Parliament debates the Bedroom Tax

On the 12th November, the Labour Party used one of its opposition days, to debate the so-called Bedroom Tax, which reduces the amount of Housing Benefit paid to council house tenants deemed to be under occupying their homes. It was generally reported that the Labour Party won the debate, although not the vote. As I finished my article on Rachel Reeves’ interview on being tougher than the Tories, I decided to watch the debate on Parliament TV, hoping that in the light of the Labour Party’s unequivocal commitment to repeal this measure, she could reshape the the debate on welfare and establish a position of compassion.

Who watches the Watchmen?

Who watches the Watchmen?

In the continuing story of the NSA and their five eyes attempts to do to the world what the GDR’s Stasi did to East Germany, someone finally asks how did we let GCHQ capture and process the internet traffic of the British people, those using the transatlantic internet cables and using the decryption technology to spy on allies and diplomats engaged in economic talks and treaties. On the 31st October, Julian Huppert MP with cross bench support from Tom Watson MP and Dominic Rabb MP managed to get time in the Westminster Hall committee room to debate Parliament’s oversight of the Intelligence agencies, specifically GCHQ, but let’s not forget our old friends, the burglars at MI5.  The debate was broadcast on Parliament TV, and transcribed in Hansard here. Both the Video and Hansard report the debate verbatim, and so if you want to hear what the MPs said, then you’ll have to use those resources. The rest of this article is a personal comment on the meeting.

Is piracy really the most important issue facing the creative industries

Is piracy really the most important issue facing the creative industries

Today, Parliament released the “Culture” select committee’s report “Supporting the Creative Industries”. The headline pursued by most media outlets is that Google’s efforts to limit copyright infringement by its ‘users’ is, to quote the committee chairman, John Whittingdale, “derisory”.  This is reported by Computing, which extends Whittingdale’s quotes which demand further action from Google which is erroneously singled out as the single largest source of piracy and thus the single largest source of damage to Britain’s creative industries. Peter Bradwell of the ORG, and Paul Bernal of UEA cover the report and its impact, in Peter’s case on the ORG Blog, in an article called, Culture Committee copyright report one-sided and simplistic and in Paul’s case on his blog in an article called, Supporting the creative economy?. The ORG verbal evidence to the committee is available as a video here…, on Parliament TV. Enjoy the show and Peter’s persistant return to statistics and facts